Today, a few strings of LED lights tacked to your rooftop are hardly anything special, but this wasn’t always the case. After the invention of electric Christmas lights in the late 19th century, this product was costly and extravagant, which prevented average people from using lights to illuminate their houses and trees. Instead, community members relied on wealthy individuals or organizations to create light displays that were accessible to the public.
One such festival was created in 1912 by a New York group called ‘The Tree of Light,’ which organized the first public Christmas tree with electric lights in New York City. By making these lights accessible to all New Yorkers, no matter their class or background, this group aimed to make the booming and impersonal metropolis of NYC feel a little bit more like a small town for the holiday season. They quickly accomplished their touching goal when over 80,000 people gathered to view the tree on Christmas Eve, all united in the spirit of holiday cheer.
Although many things have changed since 1912—for example, electric string lights no longer cost almost 80 dollars!—the sentiment of this first public display remains the same. Even now, people from all walks of life gather to experience the magic of twinkling Christmas lights illuminating trees, snowy landscapes, or—in the case of Edmonton’s Candy Cane Lane—six blocks of houses decked out in holiday decorations.
Started in 1968 by five Crestwood families, Candy Cane Lane embodies everything that makes Edmonton special. Volunteer-run and community minded, this event welcomes visitors from all over the city to stroll the sidewalks and revel in the whimsical holiday decorations filling the front lawns of Candy Cane Lane residents. Decorations include classics, like an inflatable Rudolph, alongside unexpected and hilarious additions, like a life-size cutout of Ryan Gosling. But one type of decoration can be traced back to Candy Cane Lane’s origin: the wooden, hand- painted snowmen and candy cane cutouts.
Popular in the 1960s when the event began, these handmade lawn ornaments quickly became hallmarks of the lane. As Edmonton author Bruce Cinnamon uncovered in his 2016 article for the Edmonton City as Museum Project, outgoing residents often leave their original plywood decorations in the garage for the new tenants to carry on the tradition. So, when you visit Candy Cane Lane this holiday season, keep your eyes peeled for a hand-painted snowman. That’s a piece of Edmonton history!
Beyond bringing people together and spreading holiday cheer, Candy Cane Lane
does their best to also give back to the community. They have been supporting the Edmonton Food Bank for over 20 years and are the second-largest contributor, with an estimated donation of over 360,000 kilograms of food. Visitors are encouraged to bring non-perishable items for donation and can find large green bins on street corners.
In recent years, Candy Cane Lane has evolved as an experience, including public fire pits, food trucks, and sleigh rides. In 2021, they even offered two car-free nights to make the lane more walkable. At its heart, this Edmonton event continues to honour what public light displays have always been about: bringing people together to share the spirit of the holiday season.
There’s plenty more places to experience the magic of Edmonton’s holiday season!
- All is Bright Festival | November 19, 124 Street & 108 Ave.
- Luminaria | November 23—December 31, University of Alberta Botanic Garden, 51227 AB-60
- The Magic of Lights | November 24—January 1, RAD Torque Raceway, AB-19
- Zoominescence | December 2—January 1, Edmonton Valley Zoo,13315 Buena Vista Rd. & 87 Ave.
This article by Kristen Thomas appears in the November/December issue of Info Edmonton magazine.